Pestilence, riots, lynchings and desecration of corpses. The sleep of reason produces monsters.
Vampirism has been a component of Central European and Balkan folklore since the Middle Ages and was often believed to be responsible for the transmission of serious infectious diseases such as plague and tuberculosis/consumption. Vampirism was believed to be spread within the same family or village and if the rite of the so-called second burial after death was not performed. The practice of "second burial" entailed exhumation of the body and the removal of the shroud from the mouth of the corpse, and a search for evidence if the corpse had chewed the cloth. If the shroud was chewed, a handful of earth or a brick was put into the body's mouth so that the vampire could no longer harm others. In some cases, the corpse was decapitated and an awl, made of ash, was thrust into its chest. Furthermore, the limbs were nailed down to prevent its movements. Remarkably, these beliefs were not restricted to the popular classes, but were also debated by theologians, political scientists at the height of the eighteenth century (Enlightenment). In the Habsburg Empire, this question attained such important political, social as well as health connotations as to force the Empress Maria Theresa to entrust an ad hoc study to her personal physician Gerard van Swieten with a view to determining what was true about the apparitions of vampires that occurred throughout central Europe and in the Balkans. The result of this investigation led to a ban on the "second burial" rites. Despite this prohibition, the practice of necrophilia on the bodies of suspected people continued, and both a cultured and popular literature on vampirism continued to flourish well into the nineteenth century.
Unità Operativa di Malattie Infettive, Policlinico S. Orsola-Malpighi, Università di Bologna, Italy.
Unità Operativa di Medicina Interna, Ospedale di Budrio, Azienda Unità Sanitaria Locale di Bologna, Italy.
History, 15th Century
History, 16th Century
History, 17th Century
History, 18th Century
History, 19th Century
Pub Type(s)Historical Article